More evidence of how small test budgets can work for people in criminal justice

We’ve been working with Diversity Matters to help men involved with criminal justice to identify what they need to move on with their lives and how having a small test budget can make a difference. Here are some of their stories:

James lives in supported accommodation run by Crossreach in the east end of Glasgow. At the moment, he is looking forward to moving into his own home once permanent housing becomes available. James has always been passionate about music so he decided to spend his £200 on an electric guitar. He feels that being able to write songs and perform them for people helps him share how he is feeling and has improved his mental health. It’s also been a good way to make new friends and connections, by meeting people who share his passion for music and going out to gigs. Having the extra money to buy the guitar has opened up a new world for James and a way for him to express his talent!

Simon has serious mental health issues and suffers from anxiety. He has been living in a new area where he didn’t know anyone and felt very isolated. He is separated from his ex-partner and young son although he keeps in touch with his son regularly and sees him as often as he can.

His housing situation wasn’t great and was causing him to feel very low. For example he didn’t know the local area and had no friends or family nearby. In addition, his flat had only basic facilities (i.e. a single cooker) with bare floorboards so it didn’t feel like a warm and welcoming space. He decided to spend his money on a carpet, which would mean his son could come and stay over. Having the carpet has made a big difference not just to Simon, but to his relationship with his son.

He said “I am so grateful, I spoke to my son last night and he is so happy I got the carpet and he is able to come see me next month when he gets off school. I am so happy too, I wasn’t feeling too great the past few months but everything is looking brighter for me, I have been a lot more content”.

Liam is 20 and had previous convictions after selling on stolen goods to get money for bus fares. With help from his support worker at HMP Low Moss Prisoner Support Pathway Team, he signed up for a free gym membership. He used his £200 to buy weights and equipment, which has led to him getting more into fitness. This has given him a new, healthier focus and has led to him changing his diet and becoming interested in learning to become a chef. It has been really good for him to have something positive to work towards and his own equipment to do things at home too. While he is currently sofa surfing between his parents’ houses, he is actively working towards obtaining his own tenancy with the help of his support worker.

Who takes the risk in criminal justice?

Often, we hesitate to try something new because we imagine it’s too ‘risky’. Sometimes our fears are rooted in practical difficulties – How will we get there? How will we pay for it? In other situations, we may feel we don’t have enough information to make a choice. The idea of using an SDS approach in criminal justice can seem ‘risky’ when much of what needs to happen is court directed. Additionally, the prospect of offering greater flexibility to sometime chaotic individuals with multiple complex needs can be daunting.

Simon Humphreys runs a forensic residential service for men with learning disabilities who generally fall into one of three categories: individuals with learning disabilities who were in long stay institutions when offending took place; sex offenders whose offending is related to their learning disability; and sex offenders who have a learning disability. While this service does not specifically offer self-directed support it does involve managing risk in a community setting – rather than a long stay hospital – and requires flexibility and the explicit consent of the individuals who use it. As such, some lessons might be learned.

For example, Simon advises that it is vital to build a relationship of trust between individuals and staff and to accept that some ‘relapses’ and minor incidents will likely occur.

“You cannot control people entirely, they take the risk, you’re aware of the risk, you manage access to the risk and you have to educate and communicate with individuals about the consequences of their choices. If they have rights, then they also have responsibilities. What will happen if they offend? What do they stand to lose? Particularly where there is no legal compulsion, for example reaching an agreement that certain television and internet packages will be removed from an individual if they are judged to be inappropriate and likely to lead to reoffending”.

In addition, Simon describes the importance of facilitating access to activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to individuals. For example, the service has recently developed a social enterprise garden project that helps people develop better communication and new employment skills.

Simon emphasises the importance of communicating clearly with partner organisations who may have a different culture of risk and varying ideas around what constitutes risk.

Lastly, staff have to be trained appropriately so they can feel confident relating to individuals and having difficult conversations about what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour if necessary.